Rootwood (2018) Review by Hayley Alice Roberts
** Warning: Contains Mild Spoilers **
Two podcast hosts who specialise in urban legends are enlisted by a charismatic movie producer played by inimitable genre icon Felissa Rose to create an ambitious documentary on a local Hollywood legend, the curse of The Wooden Devil.
On first impressions it would be easy to write off Rootwood as just another ‘Blair Witch’ copycat however this would be far from the case. Director Marcel Walz is clearly inspired by the late 90’s horror classic but incorporates his own filmic style to get the story across. The found footage elements are minimal and the movie is shot in the more traditional sense rather than constantly being in the characters point of view. Of course, we do get an insight into the documentary perspective without it being too bold or invasive. By not completely taking the found footage route for the duration, the film is able to play on audience anxieties leaving us to wonder if we are experiencing something genuine happening to these characters or is it all one big movie within a movie hoax?
From the get-go Walz establishes a meta/self-aware tone. We are introduced to Will (Tyler Gallant) and Jessica (Elissa Dowling), two student podcasters who host a regular series known as ‘The Spooky Hour’ detailing supernatural phenomena and urban myths. Will seems distant while Jessica concerned, immediately Mario von Czapiewski’s script builds the foundations of their relationship dynamic, creating interest around the characters. Soon Will reveals that they have been approached by Felissa Rose’s Laura Benott to work on an ambiguous documentary film, while then referring to Benott’s previous involvement with a slasher flick involving a transgender teenager, offering an unapologetically knowing wink to the viewers. Rootwood knows exactly the kind of film it wants to be, a self-aware commentary on Hollywood, independent horror filmmaking while paying a general homage to the genre.
Other than the pre-opening credits scene that depicts a distressed Jessica screaming in the deserted woods in the pitch black, Rootwood lures the audience into a false sense of security, taking its time to reach the horror elements. The tone is casually light-hearted focusing on the character interactions between, Will, Jessica and a third friend who joins the group, ‘pampered princess’ Erin (Sarah French). A romantic entanglement sub-plot is introduced but doesn’t really go anywhere in favour of the mystery and horror elements. Understandably, the romance aspect is inserted in to create a level of conflict, however it its 82 minute run-time, there’s not enough time to fully explore a great deal, which weakens the film to some degree as it feels rather rushed in the last 30 minutes or so. Prior to this, the film builds on the mystery in a suspenseful way by slowing revealing clues relating to the disturbing myth. The film’s conclusion won’t come as a huge twist but is the best direction the film could have gone in.
Rootwood features an excellent sound design which creates an unsettling atmosphere, presenting the feeling that there is something utterly sinister lurking in the background ready to startle the three key players. Similarly, to most films within the faux-documentary/found footage sub-genre Rootwood plays on the idea that it’s what you don’t see that is more unnerving with the POV shots enhancing the experience of fear unaware of what the camera might pick up, especially when the characters are roaming around aimlessly in the dark.
With decent performances, a sharp script and an engaging premise, Rootwood is worth a look. Its not ground-breaking horror filmmaking by any means but made for an all-around enjoyable viewing experience.
From High Octane Pictures, ROOTWOOD is available on DVD and Digital from April 7th 2020.
Hayley Alice Roberts,